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Baths Are So Hot Right Now: The Cultural (And Lucrative) Soaking Industry

Bath time has become the symbol of self care for stressed American women. Now, numerous industries are cashing in on the soothing suds.

Baths Are So Hot Right Now: The Cultural (And Lucrative) Soaking Industry
[Photo: courtesy of Lush]

There are hundreds of thousands of Instagram photos dedicated to a simple yet mesmerizing invention: the bath bomb. Countless fans document their fixation with the explosive personal care product—its oozing fizzy charm, colorful swirly paths, and bubbly pearls. Like your bathtub is on a sweet-smelling acid trip.

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In fact, Lush, the no. 1 purveyor of bath bombs, coined a term for it: #bathart. It’s not just a social media trend, says Brandi Halls, Lush’s director of brand communications. It’s an entire culture. Bath time allows scrubbers to express themselves with a medley of products in various layered colors, textures, or added ingredients like lavender flowers.

Intergalactic bath bomb [Photo: courtesy of Lush]
“We started to see that people were not jumping in their bathtubs until they were done filming their bath art,” she explains. “They want to share that experience.”

Even celebrities cannot escape the temptation to document sudsy eye candy. John Mayer recently penned an entire song to Lush’s $8.95 Big Sleep Jelly Bomb, straight from his bathtub. As the blue-green nucleus melted away, he strummed his guitar and crooned, “Jelly bomb’s excreting all the things my body’s needing.” (Upon examining his songwriting talents, he then exclaimed, “Hey, that’s not bad!”)

Lush says the bath bomb resurgence began with fans three years ago, at which point the retailer leveraged the popularity to innovate new products and build a social community. Since 2015, bath bomb sales increased 71%, with customers skewing female and under 35. In 2017 alone, Lush sold 21 million of its handmade bath bombs.

Lush is one of many companies reaping the benefits of society’s reawakened love affair with the tub. Not that baths ever went out of fashion–more that, in the last few years, the ritual came to embody more than just a relaxing soak. The bath physically symbolizes the all-too-tossed-around term “self care,” a reprieve from the madness of modern society. By taking a bath, you’re expressing more than just your preference over vertical cleansing; you’re saying you’re putting yourself first.

[Photo: courtesy of Lush]

Indoor Delights

In January 2017, following a tumultuous political year, Alisha Ramos launched Girls’ Night In, a newsletter covering the myriad ways women enjoy solo time to better achieve mental balance. Topics include reading, cooking, and beauty (with a heavy visual emphasis on baths). In less than a year, it garnered 40,000 readers who, like her, needed a break.

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“The news cycle was relentless, and even now that hasn’t changed,” explains Ramos. “Previously, some women really focused on what’s happening out in the world, whereas now they’re [seeing they also need] to take care of themselves.”

Girls’ Night In launched the hashtag #gnivibes for fans to share me-time activities. It’s an equal mix of images of red wine bottles, cozy bedding, books, and bathtubs. Bathing, says Ramos, trumps other self-care rituals with its ease and status appeal; they’re visually pleasing, customizable, and boast a certain elegance.

“In the age of Instagram, people want to celebrate the fact that they are taking a break, and taking time to take care of themselves, because time is the ultimate luxury,” says Ramos. “Taking that time for yourself really says something.”

Ironically, despite the heavy ‘gramming, baths are also a way to escape tech overload. Roughly 45% of employees admit tending to work emails after hours, and Nielsen estimates U.S. adults devote more than 10 hours each day to their screens. That’s one hour more than in 2015. Unless your bathroom harbors an abnormal amount of uncooked rice, the bathtub is a gadget-free zone.

That’s what inspired Shannon Vaughn to found Pursoma, a wellness beauty brand in 2014. While plenty of bath salts flood the market, Pursoma differentiates itself as an antidote to device-induced stress. Its digital detox bath soaks include ingredients like French green clay to draw out toxins, and sea salt to replenish electrolytes. The first instruction reads, “DISCONNECT and put your devices in airplane mode.”

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A bath, Vaughn says, is the ultimate off switch for today’s over-connected citizen. It’s one hour of screen-free time (and a vacation from housework, significant others, or the news). It forces you to take a meaningful break.

The messaging worked: Pursoma is now carried by more than 200 retailers, including Anthropologie, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom. Sales doubled in the last year.

Other brands quickly followed suit, including big retailers like ASOS as well as cult fave beauty brands like Herbivore. “Baths are very photogenic, so I think that a lot of beauty companies said, ‘Hey, everybody else is making a bath salt, let’s do one too,'” says Vaughn.

Goop is one such brand that launched its own line of $35 bath soaks after founder Gwyneth Paltrow declared she takes a bath every single night. “I just need that time and so I just take it,” she told People magazine.

Goop soaks launched in January, and The Martini: Emotional Detox Bath–made with Himalayan pink salt and chia seed oil –is already the no. 1 selling product across all categories at Goop Lab, reports a rep.

“The Martini” Emotional Detox Bath [Photo: courtesy of Goop]
Bahar Takhtehchian, beauty expert and founder of BaharTak.com, says companies increasingly look to capitalize on daily rituals, be it exercise (athleisurewear) or morning coffee (supplements): “They’re trying to target multiple facets of people’s lives.”

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With the global wellness industry worth $3.7 trillion, that’s just good business–and a smart investment. “This whole wellness arena is just going to get bigger,” predicts Takhtehchian. “As long as companies stay on brand, I think it’s a smart space to be in.”

Home And Away

It’s not just salts making money. Self-care moved beyond the beauty industry, and carved strong niches in sectors such as hospitality and home improvement.

Travelers, for example, increasingly filter hotel rooms by tubs. Lodging reservation site Booking.com, without offering specifics, reports a significant increase in the last year for rooms with amenities such as a bathtub or jacuzzi.

Even back at home, more Americans look to incorporate the spa trend on premises. A few years back, big showers dominated the bathroom renovation market. Now bathtubs are becoming more fashionable, with plumbing contractors reporting increased installations.

[Photo: courtesy of Lush]
Tricia Zach, market research analyst for the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), says that at $9.1 billion, bathtubs represented the fourth largest spend in bathroom products last year. NKBA’s 2018 Design Trends study found that 87% of industry professionals report that freestanding tubs are either trendy or very trendy and “are an important component of the surge in self-care rituals.” The bathtub industry experienced double-digit growth from 2015 to 2016, and the organization’s outlook for 2017 and 2018 is “equally strong.”

Pinterest witnessed an uptick too: Self-care-led projects increased 537% year over year, giving rise to topics such as self-care staycations, spa bathrooms, and other ways for people to live their best lives on campus.

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From the home trends around spa bathrooms (saves +269%) to more specific interest around baths (saves +133%), bathtubs (saves +177%) and bath rituals (saves +110%), “people are actively creating spaces and setting aside time to focus on themselves and find balance in their lives,” says Pinterest researcher Larkin Brown in an email. “We are seeing a broader trend in people taking time for themselves and looking inward rather than looking for external validation.”

:: ONE LOVE RITUAL BATH:: Now more than ever we must be personally and globally aware of our indifference and intolerance. Acknowledging responsibility by doing our best to dissolve greed, the shadow of the conditioning in our human family is crucial at this time. The consciousness in the ripple our individual drop makes in this big soul ocean matters! This bath is a talisman to remind us that what actions we make and thoughts we think can add or take away from from the compassion in this world, and in knowing this you are empowered. ~INGREDIENTS~ -Black moonstone, amethyst, rose quartz crystals -Epsom or Dead Sea salt -red rose petals -Lavender and vetiver essential oils -spirulina ~RITUAL~ -Burn smoke of white sage around you auric field -Step in to bath & dunk head underwater -Place one hand on your heart and another on your solar plexus – repeat 3x this mantra "There is strength in softness" . . . #ritualbath #medicinereadings #crystalhealing

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The Wellness Connection

Deborah Hanekamp, who goes by the moniker Mama Medicine, is a seeress with more than 17 years in the healing arts. In her New York City studio, she concocts “medicine readings”–a ritual ceremony in which she prescribes ritual bath ingredients for one’s physical and emotional well-being.

“It’s not only cleansing our physical bodies, it’s also cleansing energy,” she says of her craft.

But most know Mama Medicine for her picture-perfect Instagrams of bathtubs overflowing with romantic wildflowers, herbs, and numerous pastel-colored crystals. It’s the Magic Pixie Dream Girl of baths.

~Monthly Medicine For July~ . ::P A T I E N C E:: Dear Medicine People, In our modern world, we can easily get into a cycle of instant gratification. Want food? Have it now. Want to access someone? We don’t even have to call them. It’s easy to approach our spiritual growth with this same mindset. When we ask the universe for what we want, we expect that it will deliver it…now. But the universe doesn’t deliver how we want things to happen, but how we need things to happen. Patience is required as we walk our spiritual path. With the sun blazing down on us, its easy to get annoyed. . Sign up for a dose of Monthly Medicine by clicking link in bio so you can learn the tools I've used to help my patience grow (which btw I'm a New Yorker so by nature patience is one of the hardest lessons for me) . This beautiful photo of one of my baths was taken as a collaboration I did with @dominomag @stonefoxbride @1hotels for ingredients and ritual search Mama Medicine at domino.com . . . #weekendsbelike #ritualbath #blessyoself #medicinereadings ???? @stephanienoritz

A post shared by Deborah Hanekamp ???? NYC Seeress (@mamamedicine) on

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While Hanekamp had a healthy small business for the last few years, business began booming in the last year and a half. She’s now booked weeks in advance, with a majority of clients in the finance, legal, political, and fashion fields. She credits it to the anxiety and isolation many working women suffer. “We’re always looking down at our phones,” she says. Her experiences, in many ways, grounds and connects today’s woman.

“These wellness rituals and even self-care rituals are ways to [access spirituality] without feeling like you’re crossing that line going into some kind of religious form of spirituality,” says Hanekamp. “It’s acceptable for anyone.”

Surya Spa offers spiritual bath experiences with an ayurvedic angle. The luxury Los Angeles spa sells $35 salt soaks to open the heart, restore serenity, and access a state of emotional harmony, among other claims. The majestic silk-covered canisters include ingredients like rose petals and neem tree leaves, or wild yam with Shatavari (an Indian herb).

::FULL MOON MANDALA RITUAL BATH:: . ???????????? . Just Seeing and smelling this bath makes my heart sing, soaking in it is pure nirvana. . Nature offers us so much balance if we let her, like getting lost looking into the face of a sunflower and in that same moment tuning into how connected we all are. Dear One, YOU ARE the SUNFLOWER be the beauty that you are! Don't let any role you've chosen to identify yourself with (age, name, occupation) make you forget the truth of who you are, …everything, the light you see, the shadow you see, everything. This full buck moon is a great day to take some time to yourself and ground down into the strength of your softness. Find the mandalas that nature offers us, like our sister the moon and the constellations that surround her, and weave their story into the essence of your being. This bath is perfect for this practice. . . ~INGREDIENTS~ -oranges (when he asks pls don't tell my husband where they all went haha) – sunflowers – optional collected wild flowers – Epsom salt – tangerine quartz, labradorite, citrine crystals – sweet orange and patchouli essential oils . ~RITUAL~ – cleanse and bless your aura with the smoke of cinnamon and palo santo burning at the same time – step into bath and dunk head underwater. – pick up sunflower and take at least five minutes to stare into it, letting it become you. – close eyes, soak, enjoy, sing to the water, bless yourself so you can set an example of light to all . . . . #medicinereadings #ritualbath #fullmoonmedicine #blessyoself #mandala

A post shared by Deborah Hanekamp ???? NYC Seeress (@mamamedicine) on

Surya Spa positions itself as a high-end bath product, partnering with upscale retailers like the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. In the last half year, sales tripled, leading the spa to consider distributing to larger outlets. “[Our customers] want to feel better,” says Surya Spa owner Martha Soffer. “They want to feel clean and balanced and strong. They want to feel like themselves again.”

Bathing for medicinal purposes isn’t new. The centuries-old pastime has been shown to positively affect physical and mental health, be it for lowering blood pressure or calming the nervous system. But while beneficial, those elements don’t seem to be the sole driving force today.

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As Mama Medicine attests, the cultural climate has given new meaning to the bath time ritual.  Women want to feel good, but in an empowering, healing, and luxe way. And if they can do that and populate their social media at the same time? All the better.

“[My clients] are people who would have never come to me before two years ago,” says Hanekamp. “Now there’s so many coming. It’s nice to see.”

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